So I walk into a pharmacy one day just to get my asthma medication refilled and saw the blood pressure cuff out of the corner of my eye. Knowing my health wasn’t in the greatest state, I was rather curious. Filled halfway with fear and halfway with anticipation, I finally mustered up the courage to shove my arm in the cuff.
“FFF-fff, FFF-fff, FFF-fff, FFF-fff….ffffffffffffff” The cuff hissed.
“FFF-fff, FFF-fff, FFF-fff, FFF-fff….ffffffffffffff” My nerves got continually more stimulated. With each repetition my heart started racing faster. White coat syndrome? Perhaps. Except the only white coat in sight was a nice lady’s service dog.
After the final inflation and deflation, the numbers flashed.
For those unfamiliar, a normal blood pressure is 120/80. High blood pressure is considered >140/90. Clinical hypertension is >160/100. My numbers were somewhere in between “70 year old life-long chainsmoker” and “80 year old obese diabetic”.
My arm wasn’t the only thing that the cuff choked. I felt a rather large lump in my throat and that cold, unsettling feeling of “DANGER” fell over me. “No more putting this off” I thought, wondering what kind of permanent damage I had done to myself.
I spent the rest of the day ruminating. Ruminating in the most unhealthy of ways. That twisting spiral of what-if’s again. The first thing I did when I got home was make a doctors appointment. At least got that out of the way.
At this point, I didn’t know enough not to consult Dr. Google. My downward spiral turned into a slip-n-slide straight to hell. After my informative consultation with the ever-vague Dr. Google, I was convinced I either had Lupus or some other life-changing disease. I swore off seeing Dr. Google after that.
“Well, the good news is you’re still young. But you have to make changes and you have to make changes now. You’re in danger of advanced cardiovascular disease and will be at high risk for a heart attack by the time you’re thirty.” were the doctors words. Yes, the actual doctor, not doctor google.
Turns out, I’d caused permanent eye damage from hypertension-induced retinopathy and permanent nerve damage from presumably hypertension induced neuropathy.
Humans evolved in the context of immediate threats, and as such, it’s easy for us to put chronic, slow-evolving conditions out of our head. Well that day, my health became the tiger in the room. It was a very, very real threat. A rock bottom had been hit. A switch in my brain chemistry had been flipped.
From that point on, I didn’t touch refined sugar. I didn’t touch alcohol. I didn’t touch anything remotely resembling anything that I knew as “unhealthy” at the time (which was rather skewed). I didn’t even crave it. Something about a rock bottom completely 180’ed my brain chemistry.
I ran. And ran. And ran. All the running led to an extremely suppressed appetite. At the time, I’d eat a handful of almonds for breakfast, a banana after my run, and usually a filet of fish and quinoa for dinner. I had no cravings for anything else but to get myself better again.
The weight began to shed. I wasn’t even concerned with how much I was losing. I didn’t own a scale. I didn’t obsess about food. I didn’t obsess about my image in the mirror. Vanity was the farthest thing from my mind. I had a tiger chasing me. The cardiovascular disease tiger. I was like a sprinter with tunnel vision to the finish line and focused on nothing else.
Eight months and one hundred pounds later, I was feeling great both mentally and physically. Subsequent doctors visits showed a normal blood pressure and normal blood markers. I still had a pesky neuropathy that was bothering me, and my vision never quite returned to normal.
Stumbling Through Health
I still remember the first morning I walked into the bathroom and caught myself in the mirror. I actually looked…Decent. I honestly never thought that I could have an aesthetically pleasing body. The thought never crossed my mind. A few awkward flexes later, I decided that all the running I was doing needed to be supplemented with weight training.
I researched and researched. I got sick of attention-grabbing “5 things you shouldn’t eat!” articles and began diving into the primary fitness and nutrition literature. You know, pubmed type of stuff. Scientific papers. What ACTUALLY works and what doesn’t. The papers that “nutrition writers” take completely out of context to stroke their own confirmation biases.
It just so happened that I met a girl right around the time I started a (finally) productive strength training routine. This was serendipitous because, well, I frankly probably wouldn’t have been eating enough calories to make any gains otherwise. My staunch attitude towards food began to lax a little bit; you know how new relationships are. Dinner dates, (lots of) eating out, and modest amounts of drinking resumed; all performed mindfully and healthily. Except maybe the eating out part. I put on about 20 pounds of mass with at least 12-15 of it being muscle, thankfully.
Unsatisfied with the amount of fat I gained, I began to research the best way to lose it without losing the precious muscle mass I’d put on myself. This is when I discovered intermittent fasting. I did the standard 8/16 window courtesy of Martin Berkhan over at Leangains and the results were mind blowing. I lost a significant amount of fat in a short period of time, and the intermittent fasting dogma set in. I felt this was the “only way to live” from then on out.
Another mindset humans tend to suffer from is the “More is always better” mindset. The 16/8 window turned into a 20/4 window. The amount of food I was eating decreased. I knew that eating more protein in a deficit than when you’re in a surplus is more conducive to holding onto muscle when you’re losing weight. So what did I do? Even though I had my macros all calculated out, every day I’d go “Ehh, It won’t hurt if I go under my carbs and fat a little bit for a little extra protein…”
This resulted in more health problems. There were points where I was eating 1200 calories a day, mostly from low-fat ground beef, chicken breast, and protein powder creations. And I was training to failure in big compound movements almost every workout. Adrenal fatigue and an extreme gut dysbiosis occurred to the point where if I consumed any protein from any source at all, I would have gas that made a cow farm smell mild.
I, again, ignored the signs for too long (seeing a trend here?). The light-headedness every time I stood up, the extreme lethargy I’d feel both walking in and out of the gym, the nightly insomnia and waking up 5-6 times/night to pee, and of course, the bloating and gas that would occur after literally every meal. I was stuck in fear and dogma. Intermittent fasting gave me such good results in the past combined with high protein intake; so how could I change now?
This is when I finally had the realization that vanity had taken over as my main motivation rather than health and well-being. I did have a six pack, sure, but hiding behind that six pack were overworked adrenal glands and all sorts of nasty bacteria. I kept repeating my actions because I was making moderate progress with aesthetics, which resulted in completely ignoring my health. After having this realization, I slowly had to work myself out of that mindset and those patterns and begin living for health again. It took a lot for me to break those habits; but the fact that it was hard to go out in public after eating helped.
I resolved to stop looking in the mirror, put away the measuring tape and scale, and just to eat and workout to feel good. This resulted in more than doubling my calories and making them come from mostly whole food sources. No, my six pack didn’t melt away like I thought it would. Instead, within 2 months, something amazing happened. My lifts were going up. My body fat was even going down. I felt fantastic. I finally decided to dust off the scale just to see. Three pounds down from the last time I weighed myself and my lifts were all up 10-30 pounds. It’s amazing what proper nutrition and a focus on health will do.
It’s a Continual Journey
And that brings me to where I am today. I always try to keep my lifestyle health-focused first, but the itch of manipulating my bodyweight, lean mass, and fat mass still lingers. So I still do these things, just with a healthier mindset. I for sure still struggle with getting into old patterns of restriction every now and then. It’s been quite a journey, and still is – both physically and mentally. As you’ve seen, I’ve made tons of mistakes along the way. Siedenburg Nutrition was born from the excellent nutritional education I’ve received, the mistakes I’ve made, and the passion I have for helping others avoid those mistakes and get out of the holes I’ve found myself in in the past.